On the plane this morning to Great Britain where he'll be making a four-day visit, Pope Benedict XVI told journalists traveling with him he was deeply saddened at clerical sex abuse and that the Church was going through a period of humility and repentence.
[UPDATE: Here's a link to the full text on the Vatican website.]
Catholic News Service's John Thavis is with the pope:
"These revelations were for me a shock, and a great sadness. It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible," he said. ...
The pope said it was inexplicable to him how a priest who has promised at his ordination to act in the person of Christ, as a good shepherd, could "fall into this perversion."
"It is a great sadness. It is a sadness, also, that the authority of the church was not vigilant enough, was not sufficiently fast and decisive in taking the necessary measures," he said.
For all these reasons, he said, the church is experiencing a moment of penitence and humility, making an effort to renew its "absolute sincerity." He thanked the bishops of Great Britain for the measures they have adopted to prevent sex abuse by clergy. ...
The pope said the universal church has as its "first priority" the recovery of sex abuse victims. He said three things were necessary. The first was to help victims overcome their traumas, and restore their trust in the message of Christ, he said.
The second aspect, he said, was to mete out justice to guilty priests and help make sure they are excluded from any contact with young people. At the same time, he said, "we know this is a sickness, and free will does not function," so in a sense the church is helping protect the perpetrators from themselves.
The third element, the pope added, was prevention, particularly in the choice of candidates for the priesthood, so that future cases of abuse can be avoided.
Read the entire thing here.